Saturday, March 21, 2015

My Favorite Marvel Comics Superheroes

 . . . And Why Some of Them Should be Used More

Disclaimer: As you’ll notice, I’m a huge fan of the Avengers comic books, so most of my selections will come from there. This list is not comprehensive—I love a lot of characters, but am trying to keep this list relatively short, though it could easily include: Cassie Lang; White Tiger (Ava Ayala); Wonder Man (Simon Williams); Spider-Man 2099 (Miguel O'Hara); Sif; Clea; Shang-Chi; Amadeus Cho; Mockingbird (Bobbi Morse), Falcon (Sam Wilson), etc.

So, it's a good time to be a Marvel fan, considering the use of more Marvel characters than ever in the MCU. Though I'm lucky to have a good percentage of my favorites as characters deemed worthy enough of movie exposure, I also believe several have a lot of potential to be fan favorites if they just got a push and the right creative team. Alright, then. On to the list:

1     1. Carol Danvers, current Captain Marvel:
 What can I say about this character? She was one of the first Marvel characters I fell in love with back when the only thing I knew about Marvel were their movies. (Though this was back around 2010, so the only ones I knew were Iron Man, Spider-Man, and the Hulk.)
  One main reason I love Carol is because she’s inspiring: she was created in 1968 and was a woman in a traditionally male career field who was portrayed as competent. Marvel chose her to become the original Ms. Marvel in the late 70s, which led to her receiving her first of several ongoing series, becoming a member of the Avengers, and since the new millennium, she’s received enough of a push to be one of Marvel’s flagship females. Although, I also loved her for how utterly human she was. In Kurt Busiek's Avengers run, she struggled with alcoholism and during Brian Reed's Ms. Marvel, he dealt with her past of having been depowered, sent to space, and the trauma she'd dealt with that had mostly been glossed over by previous writers. She started off as a minor character and has grown as a character in the books and as an IP for Marvel comics—originally she had no powers and now she’s one of the most respected and powerful female heroes based on Marvel Earth. She's also a nerd: she named her cat Chewie (after Chewbacca of Stars Wars fame, as it reminded her of that character) and wrote a science fiction novel (based on her time with the Starjammers). Another appealing characteristic of Carol is that she's struggled with insecurity and desire to be recognized which influences her decisions, good and bad. Since Marvel rebranded her as Captain Marvel, she's gotten it, both in-universe and out.
  If you want a starting point, Kelly SueDeConnick’s Captain Marvel (in particular the first 17 or so issues she wrote) is a pretty good place to begin, since it starts with Carol taking on the Captain Marvel name and has solid characterization, if mediocre stories.
  Oh, and I’m shallow—while I don’t care much for her current costume, her flight abilities and energy projection and absorption powers are awesome and a great visual.

2.   T’Challa, the Black Panther:
While sharing a name with a black power organization makes the Panther a character many deem racist, he still holds up better than some of Marvel’s other attempts at black male characters: he was competent, idealized, and was deemed worthy of joining the Avengers based on his status as a hero, not because of his race so as to do some offensive story critiquing affirmative action (I’m looking at you, Falcon, Rage, Triathlon). The most unfortunate element is that he’s typically had his face covered up, but I’m willing to deal with it because the visual is so powerful.
 Black Panther represents Afro-futurism and proof that if Africa hadn't suffered under European colonization, the continent would thrive. He also has some cool villains like Reverend Achebe and Eric Killmonger. I have my issues with him, of course -- hyper-masculinity can sometimes be an issue with T'Challa and his mythos, the fact that the Black Panther title is passed down through royal blood, needs more supporting characters who are regular citizens of the country, and female supporting Panther allies (Monica Lynn, his step-mother, Queen Divine Justice, Shuri) have sometimes been forgotten by certain writers or given poor characterization (like "woman scorned" Nakia/Malice).  However, the more recent comics have downplayed this and basically turned the Dora Milaje into the Dahomey Mino/Ahosi (or Dahomey Amazons, as they're more popularly known), which isn't a bad thing and makes a lot of sense, and have added more nuanced characterization.
 Also, like with Black Bolt and Namor, there’s the logistics of how someone who’s supposed to be running a kingdom on a regular basis has time to play Avenger over in the West.
 But yeah, I love Black Panther. Favorite run is by Christopher Priest.

3     3. Hank Pym
Yes, I know why everyone hates him. But can I say that’s why I like him? I like that he and Janet’s relationship always fails, that he always switches super hero identities, that he has a Never Live It Down reputation with the fans. . . .
   Why? Because it makes him so relatable to me. I’ve always been considered talented and smart, but except for grades in school and college, I fail at just about everything I do. Both the fictional Hank and I are always trying to prove ourselves and learn from our mistakes, trying to keep others from making the same mistake we did. The Hank story that shows this best was "The Trial of Yellowjacket" from Roger Stern's Avengers run, though other good moments include his use as Dr. Pym in West Coast Avengers and, more recently, books like Avengers Academy and Avengers A.I. Also, I love size changing. It’s such a badly used power. Imagine if you could shrink things—that would destroy the luggage industry alone. And it's so visually cool to be able to shrink since it's great for spying and escapes, controlling ants (since so many can be dangerous) and visually unique. Plus, the Microverse is so cool!

4      4. Janet van Dyne, the Wasp:
While I love female heroes who do traditionally male jobs, I’ve long felt that superheroes or women of action who take on traditionally feminine pursuits have received a bad rap. Janet may have been written in a creepy sexist manner in her early days, but you can’t hold that against the character throughout her entire history.
   Taken as a whole, Janet was one of the first Marvel heroines to have a gender-neutral codename, have a costume that wasn’t ridiculously revealing, kept her code name (unlike say, Carol Danvers), and had a character arc that allowed her to grow. She has multiple and unique powers: ability to shrink and grow, flight, and her stingers. She’s led the Avengers multiple times, serving as their first female chairperson; she wanted to be hero because she wanted revenge against who killed her father; she also wanted to help people. She is a fashionista who is the CEO of her own company who’s designed and worn hundreds of costumes, all of them colorful and full of personality. Her personality is fun and bubbly. She’s an ally and friend to just about every female hero in the Marvel U. And, most importantly, she wants to have a good time. 

5     5. Pietro Maximoff, Quicksilver:
I wish I could claim I was one of those hipster types who liked Pietro long before he ever showed up in a movie, but I can only honestly admit to having been a fan since 2012. Basically, he’s the sort of character I often love: snarky, has feelings of inadequacy, unique and visual super powers, and has never been quite the traditional alpha male. In many ways, he’s more feminine—he’s drawn like a pretty boy, has deferred to many women as leaders, his powers make him more agile and swift, and he has been mainly defined by his relationships to females in his life (Wanda, Crystal, Luna). He’s also an international ethnic minority: Romani from the Balkans. 
   The best use of Pietro has pretty much exclusively been when he's written by Peter David, so I recommend the X-Factor run PAD did in the nineties as well as the more recent All-New X-Factor

6      6. Jennifer Walters, the Sensational She-Hulk:
While I stopped liking the Hulk a few years ago, I also fell in love with his cousin, mainly due to the John Byrne/Dan Slott/Charles Soule (an actual practicing attorney) writings of the character. The main appeal for me is that she does what she does because she legitimately wants to make the justice system work and make the world a better place, while keeping a smile on her face. Though I’ll admit it helps that since her power upgrade, she’s been portrayed as being one of the most purely strong females on Marvel Earth, even drawn with some proper muscle. Plus, Jen’s comics are hilarious. Fun fact: She broke the fourth wall before Deadpool.

7. Crystal
      A sadly underrated but super awesome character. Basically, as the Inhuman princess of Attilan she's the Marvel equivalent of a Disney princess and has the same powers as the Avatar from the Avatar: The Last Airbender and The Legend of Korra shows. That's right: she controls fire, water, earth, and air, along with stuff like electricity, metal, and she can fly. She's so cool and has some of the most visually interesting powers out there. She was once married to Quicksilver and they have a daughter together named Luna Maximoff. Crystal is also so very human; she is torn between her duty to the royal family and her own desires and independence, which was probably best shown during the "War of Kings" storyline. She has been a member of the Fantastic Four and the Avengers, and has shown great competence and power during her times with these teams. Though her character has often been aimless over the years, she's to me what Ariel from the Little Mermaid would be like if her marriage hadn't ended her chance to have adventures, which makes for compelling escapism.

8.      Thor Odinson:
On paper, even for a superhero comic, Thor seems too ridiculous to work: Shakespeare plus Norse mythology and classic superheroics? Absurd (and vaguely offensive). But it all manages to work. He's got great costumes (including the brilliant design above, which is my favorite), great supporting characters like the Lady Sif, Baldur, Beta Ray Bill, and wonderful villains based on the myths. Also, how could you not like Mjolnir? 
  Thor run to check out: Thor volume 1, the issues written by Walt Simonson, starting with issue 337 to 382.

9      9. Monica Rambeau
I’d list her codename, but she’s probably going to ditch the Spectrum name just like all the others. This one, I’ll admit, is mainly an appeal to relatability and wish fulfillment: I’m a black female, so is Monica. She’s got a fun, upbeat personality; she’s worn some brilliant costumes with a black and white color scheme; she has thick hair; her powers allow her to literally turn into the different wavelengths and frequencies of the electromagnetic spectrum. How is that not awesome? If you want to read Monica at her best, read Roger Stern's Avengers run (as he was her co-creator), (if you can track them down) the two oneshots called Captain Marvel volume 2, Warren Ellis's Nextwave: Agents of H.A.T.E. and the recent Mighty Avengers and Ultimates series both written by Al Ewing.

1  10.  Tie—Heather Douglas, Moondragon and Phyla-Vell:
A bit of a copout, putting two characters in the same spot, but because these two have often been associated with each other since they became a couple and I do happen to love them both equally, I couldn’t separate them.
   Why do I love Moondragon? Why wouldn’t I? She’s a bald telepathic scientist who’s an expert in martial arts, has worn striking (though ridiculously sexualized) costumes with capes and high collars, and thinks she’s some sort of god due to her superiority complex who's served as an Avenger, Defender, and member of the Guardians of the Galaxy. (If you’re only familiar with the movies, she’s also Drax’s daughter.)There is some pretty huge baggage, though, since she's done some horrible things (example: she's been a rapist, both in the physical sense and mindraped Quicksilver one time. Messed up, right?).
   And Phyla . . . She’s got great powers—flight, super strength, energy absorption, cosmic awareness—and has a sweet, calming personality, while also trying to live up to the shadow of her late father and brother, Mar-Vell and Genis-Vell.
   At their best, they appeared in Annihilation, Annihilation Conquest, and Guardians of the Galaxy (the one by Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning). 

Honorable Mentions:

Clint Barton, Hawkeye:  While he’s had his ups and downs over the years, Clint has always been an engaging and easy-to-relate-to character who can be quite entertaining when written well. 

Steve Rogers, Captain America: As much I would love to claim I liked him before it was popular . . . I got into him through the Chris Evans portrayal. ‘Nuff said.

Bonita Juarez, Firebird: A lovely design, fire powers, woman of color (a Latina), a social worker whose goal is to try and care for her own community which tends to be neglected in terms of superheroics, and the fact that she’s a devout Catholic who may or may not be immortal. . . . This character has been criminally underused. Could maybe keep the religious angle but also flesh out how social work has influenced her and show some of her hobbies, sense of humor, but we really need her back on the Avengers. To continue that line of thought:

Miguel Santos, Lightning: Miguel has a back story that makes him easy to adapt in other media (father a part of cult, Miguel gets powers by accessing the experiments in the cult headquarters, boom, superhero). He’s a young, clever guy with a strong devotion to people. And, perhaps most notably in this day and age, he’s a Latino who came out as gay during Dan Slott’s Great Lakes Avengers miniseries. He hasn't been seen much in recent years (though he did make a return to the Avengers during "No Surrender"), but he's thankfully not been left to languish like so many other Marvel characters before him.With his recent appearance, there's potential in the setup established by Avengers #690: Miguel lives in Texas working undercover to clean up trouble in the area with a detective named Dan (who Miguel expressed romantic attraction to in Avengers #675) with Red Wolf helping him out. I really want to read about their adventures.

Monet St. Croix, M: Not a fan of X-Men, but I discovered her through Peter David’s X-Factor Investigations and have loved most of her appearances. Great look, powers, and personality. 

Jericho Drumm, Doctor Voodoo: My love for him is new, but it is strong. Where’s Jericho’s movie, Marvel? He’d be far more unique than Doctor Strange (though I like him too). The name is offensive, though, and he's a straight up Ethnic Magician.

Lorna Dane, Polaris: Like Monet, I discovered her through Peter David’s X-Factor works, and have grown fond of her. Love her great powers, great design, her friendship/former sisterhood with Quicksilver, and the fact that she’s a college-educated woman who was once the most feminist Marvel heroine back in the 1960s (other than Crystal) who’s been underused by X-Men comic writers which began under Chris Claremont who often contrasted her with his pet characters, Jean Grey and Storm. This despite X-Men supposedly being the most “progressive” corner of the Marvel U. Then again, it just makes her easier to root for. 
Hercules: I've always enjoyed him, but in recent years, through the work of writers Greg Pak and Fred Van Lente, he's grown to be one of the most genuinely compelling but also fun characters in the Marvel universe, which is always good to see from the classic 60s creations, who, more often than not, only become more jaded and cynical with time. (He's also a rare bisexual hero, but that's not surprising if you're familiar with the myths.)
Sersi: Need this be explained? Go read some Eternals comics as well as certain issues of the John Byrne and Bob Harras/Steve Epting runs on Avengers (Volume 1) starting with issue #314 up to around issue #375 and you’ll see why. She's got a great design, has strong and unique powers like molecule manipulation, and a fun, carefree personality. (Though the image above was her being extremely angry at the time.)

Medusa: She's queen of the Inhumans, sister of Crystal, wife of Black Bolt, has a son named Ahura, and can be totally awesome. The image should speak for itself.  All hail the queen.

Bobby Drake, Iceman: This one is more for potential than any specific story. Like the other X-Men on this list, Bobby's been mostly wasted as a character, with some bright spots (in particular Marjorie Liu's Astonishing X-Men run).

Jessica Drew, Spider-Woman: This is mainly due to her friendship with Carol Danvers, though her original 70s series and her more recent series post-Secret Wars were decent. She's had some cool characters in her books like her friend Lindsay McCabe, her son Gerry, and villains like Skein or the Brothers Grimm. Her comics have never sold particularly well, but she's got potential to go places in adaptations, so I'll continue to hope for the best. 

Dr. Faiza Hussain, Excalibur: A nice, non-stereotypical personality for a Muslim, cool powers, and good costume. I like that she's a trained doctor who can use her powers to heal but also to immobilize. And, naturally, she can use that sword. She's had some pretty good stories and needs to be used more. To start, she was introduced in Paul Cornell's Captain Britain and the MI-13.

Jamie Madrox, the Multiple Man: This character is a perfect example of, "There are no bad characters, only bad writers," which basically means the best writers can make anyone a great character. And Peter David did exactly that with Jamie, transforming him from a one-dimensional joke with lame powers into a lovable, complex everyman and expanded his powers so that not only can he create duplicates ("dupes," he calls them) of himself, they're sentient enough so that they can learn, live lives, and when he reabsorbs them, he gains all their knowledge and experience. Plus, his sense of humor and his obsession with being a noir hero in the Madrox miniseries and while he was running the detective/mutant agency, X-Factor Investigations, was one of the most consistently entertaining things to read during the 2000s in Marvel Comics. 

Doreen Green, Squirrel Girl: I actually used to find this character really annoying, but then again, she used to be nothing more than a joke. However, Ryan North and Erica Henderson's work on her in The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl did wonders for her, fleshing her out, giving her some great supporting characters (like Nancy) and really taking the squirrel thing to its logical conclusion: she has a more squirrel-esque body type in Henderson's art and she's very knowledgeable about them. Gets extra points for not being supermodel pretty, unlike most Marvel heroines. Also check out Shannon Hale and Dean Hale's Squirrel Girl young adult novels.

Miles Morales: Perhaps the last great contribution to Marvel by comic writer Brian Michael Bendis. Miles has a difficult history to explain. In short, in 2000, Marvel created a new universe to help new readers get into the comics without having to read up on 40 years of comic history, called the “Ultimate” Universe. The book that started it all was Ultimate Spider-Man, written by Bendis himself. In 2011, the original Ultimate Spider-Man, Peter Parker, died in a storyline called “Death of Spider-Man” and a new one came along, none other than Miles Morales. Eventually, the Ultimate Universe was discontinued and Miles was moved to the main Marvel Universe. For a new character, he’s pretty solid: has a pretty subtle anti-Peter Parker personality, has good supporting characters (Ganke Lee, Jefferson, Judge, Lana A.K.A. Bombshell) and at least one good villain (his uncle, Aaron Davis). While I like Bendis’s Miles (his best work on him was Ultimate Comics: Spider-Man Volume 2), my favorite take on him so far was from Jason Reynolds’s young adult novel, Miles Morales: Spider-Man, which was critically acclaimed (even making NPR's best books of 2017 list). I liked the novel’s Miles because: introverted personalities translate better in prose; it really dealt with what it’s like to be the only person in your neighborhood to get a chance and the expectations that come with that; how Miles feels knowing that there’s a chance that he could end up a criminal like his uncle Aaron (or like his own father used to be) and wonders if people like him are cut out to be superheroes; and themes of race (Miles is half black and half Puerto Rican) and class (he got into his school, the Brooklyn Visions Academy, through a lottery). And to be shallow regarding Miles: that’s one of the best costumes I’ve ever seen. Artist Sara Pichelli is a genius.

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